Lake Isabelle - A Legacy from the Little Ice Age

Lake Isabelle

About 600 years ago North America experienced a slight cooling that produced colder temperatures, longer winters and increased glaciation. During this Little Ice Age, Colorado's northern Front Range was blasted with precipitation. Year after year heavy snowfall filled the deep, east-facing cirques. Over time, the compressed snow transformed into ice which eventually began creeping down the valleys.

The glaciers achieved their maximum extent by 1850, then the climate began warming again. The rebellious rivers of ice have been retreating back up into the mountains ever since, leaving rugged crags and turquoise tarns in their wake. There are only fourteen named glaciers left in Colorado today.

Born from the melted ice of Isabelle Glacier, Lake Isabelle is a precious legacy from the Little Ice Age. The bowl of frigid water is contained by a steep-walled basin at the top of a spectacular, flower-infused valley. Jagged peaks are crowded around the shimmering jewel, fostering an intimate space of shade and solitude.

On an overcast day, Lake Isabelle is a remarkable mirror with eerie reflections that become shattered by afternoon thunder showers. As you come back from the lake, cold and wet, your mind begins to thaw and having been in the mountains helps you to understand how these glacial events sculpted the landscape.

Natural historian Louis Agassiz explains why these events occurred, "One naturally asks, what was the use of this great engine set at work ages ago to grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth? We have our answer in the fertile soil which spreads over the temperate regions of the globe. The glacier was God's great plough."

Lake Isabelle is at the top of a spectacular valley

Surrounded by jagged peaks

Lake Isabelle is a remarkable mirror

The reflections are eerie

During the Little Ice Age this cirque was filled with snow

Isabelle Glacier (center) feeds the shimmering lake

An intimate space of shade and solitude

Afternoon rain showers

Being in the mountains helps you understand the landscape

You come back from the lake cold and wet

A perilous bridge crossing


  1. Beautiful, wondering how much hiking it takes to get there? It looks so pristine.

    1. Thanks Courtney, There is an access road that goes up pretty high so from the trailhead its only about 2 1/2 miles. It's usually a crowded hike but we went up during a rain shower so it was really quiet. It's one of my favorite lakes in Colorado.

  2. Dan. those photos are amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful scenery with us. Next time I come to Colorado, will you be my tour guide? Keep it up, you are enriching our lives.

    1. Thank you Donna, we try to get out and find interesting places around here. If you ever make it to Colorado, I'll definitely give you a tour. I love visiting California, San Francisco is one of my favorite cities.

  3. Another gorgeous spot, absolutely stunning - you have so many beautiful places in Colorado - I think I'd have to put this one at or near the top of the list - would love to see this in person!

    1. Thanks Judi, it's a stunning place, one of my favorites. Because the trail is located close to Denver, it can get crowded but if you know when and where to go it's a great nature experience.

  4. Dan big bro, we love you, and respect. Many greetings


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